Brussels bombings: Belgian intelligence under fire as report says security services knew airport, subway attacks were coming

By @sarkysaki on
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A French soldier patrols Charles De Gaulle international airport in Paris after European security was stepped up following Tuesday's attacks in Brussels Reuters

Israeli-based newspaper Haaretz has claimed that Belgian and Western security services had prior intelligence of the terror attack on the metro network and airport in Brussels that killed 31 people on Tuesday.   

Without citing any sources, the paper claims that security services knew “with a high degree of certainty” that an airport and subway attack in the near future was likely.

In a further indictment of European intelligence, it emerged yesterday that Turkey had warned Belgian authorities that Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, who detonated an explosive device at Zaventem airport, was a likely foreign Jihadist after arresting him at a Turkish airport in June last year.  

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that Turkey had informed the Belgian embassy of Bakraoui’s arrest before deporting him to the Netherlands. However Bakraoui was released after no evidence linking him to terrorist activity could be found.

Both Erdogan’s revelations and Haaretz’s claims draw further attention to European security, which has come under intense scrutiny following Tuesday’s explosions in the Belgian capital.

In a speech to the Lowy Institute just 24 hours after the bombings, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull cited a lack of cross-community integration and open borders as elements of a “perfect storm” that allowed Islamist terrorists to strike European capitals.    

Turnbull said European authorities were “struggling to keep pace with the scope and breadth of the threat” and creating a "favourable ecosystem for an Islamist milieu".  

He also used the speech to stress Australia’s robust approach to security in contrast with Europe.

"Australia is better placed than many of our European counterparts in dealing with the threat of terrorism because of the strength of our intelligence and security agencies,” the Prime Minister said.

Turnbull had told ABC before his speech on Wednesday that Europe had let security "slip". 

However, Belgian ambassador to Australia Jean-Luc Badon said criticism of the Belgian security services was “unfair”.

““You have had attacks in most countries ... in the USA, in Europe, they’ve taken place in Paris ... in London, in Madrid, in Rome, even in Russia and nobody thinks that Russian intelligence and security services are weak,” Badon told Sky News.   

RTSBZ3O The black, yellow, and red colours of the Belgian flag are projected on the National Gallery in tribute to the victims of the Brussels bomb attacks in London  Reuters

The British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon also said it was “too early to start criticising the Belgian authorities until the investigation is complete” although he had stressed that he was aware of IS cells sent out from Syria to attack Western targets.

“We know that Daesh has an external attack-planning operation that is designed to create mayhem on the streets of Western cities. London is not exempt from that,” Fallon said.  

At least 400 IS fighters have been specifically trained to attack European cities, according to Iraqi and European intelligence sources speaking to the Associated Press.   

“The objective appears to no longer be killing as many people as possible but rather to have as many terror operations as possible,” a senior source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said.